U.S. News

U.S. court upholds federal contractor campaign finance ban

(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected a challenge to a long-standing ban on U.S. government contractors making campaign contributions in federal elections, emphasizing that the policy was put in place to prevent corruption.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against three individual contractors who contended that the ban violated their constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection under the law.

Writing on behalf of an 11-judge panel, Chief Judge Merrick Garland wrote that “the concerns that spurred the original bar remain as important today as when the statute was enacted” in 1940.

The U.S. Federal Election Commission, which defended the law, said in court papers the ban was needed to prevent corruption and interference with government decision-making.

The case did not touch upon the campaign contributions ban on corporations that have contracts with the federal government.

Garland wrote that the original law was prompted by a corruption scandal involving federal contracts.

“The statute was itself the outgrowth of a decades-long congressional effort to prevent corruption and ensure the merit-based administration of the national government,” Garland wrote.

Garland cited more recent corruption scandals in which members of Congress were convicted as examples of why the ban is still warranted.

Two of the challengers were former U.S. Agency for International Development employees who became contractors for the agency after they retired. The other, lead plaintiff Wendy Wagner, is a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has consulted for the Administrative Conference of the United States.

Some of the claims in the case were moot because two of the three plaintiffs had completed their federal contracts, the court said.

Alan Morrison, a professor at George Washington University Law School who represented the plaintiffs, said he was disappointed with the ruling but declined to comment further.

The Federal Election Commission declined to comment on the ruling.

The ruling comes at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court has pared back campaign finance restrictions.

In 2010, the high court’s ruling in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission cleared the way for unlimited independent spending by corporations and labor unions in federal elections. In 2014, the court lifted restrictions on the overall amount that donors can give to multiple candidates in a two-year federal election cycle.

In a deviation from that trend, the court ruled in April that states can bar judicial candidates from soliciting campaign contributions.

The case is Wagner v. FEC, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, No. 13-5162.